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STL@ARI: Berkman jacks a grand slam to left

PHOENIX -- Lance Berkman and the Cardinals are turning back the clock.

Berkman and his new team spent yet another night swinging like it was 2004, back when Berkman was an MVP candidate and St. Louis was the National League's highest-scoring team. They drubbed the Diamondbacks by a 15-5 count at Chase Field on Wednesday, as Cardinals hitters banged out 17 hits, 10 of them for extra bases, against Ian Kennedy and a string of Arizona relievers.

After a weeklong quiet stretch to open the season, the Redbirds' lineup has been on a rampage. The Cards have scored at least six runs in each of their past four games, totaling 37 in that stretch. On Wednesday alone, they moved from eighth to fourth in the National League in runs scored.

And Berkman has led the charge, drilling four homers in the club's three-game series in Arizona. That's more than he managed in his final 51 games of the 2010 season. He's looking for all the world like the middle-of-the-order thumper the Cardinals believed they were acquiring when they signed him last December, and not the player who limped to a .413 slugging percentage in 2010. Berkman drove in five runs on Wednesday with an RBI groundout and a grand slam.

"Coming into this year, I was hoping to find that last year was more a result of not being healthy than anything else," Berkman said. "This kind of thing used to happen, not all the time, but I used to do things like this when I was sort of what I guess people would consider the prime of my career. So deep down you always feel like you can do it, but it's always good to prove it to everyone and also to yourself."

The run total was the highest by the Cardinals since an 18-3 win over Braves on Aug. 22, 2008. Their 31 runs were the club's most in a three-game series since hanging 32 on the Blue Jays from June 3-5, 2003, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. And their eight doubles tied a franchise record, last reached Aug. 30, 2006, against Florida.

"This team coming in really wasn't swinging the bats that well, but they really heated up here," said Arizona manager Kirk Gibson.

They did it in a variety of ways on Wednesday, but the weapon of choice was the double. Six Cards batters combined for those eight doubles, including two each by Colby Rasmus and Gerald Laird. Albert Pujols and Rasmus scored three times each, and Skip Schumaker connected for a three-run homer.

"The hitters were relentless," manager Tony La Russa said. "Kennedy's a solid pitcher, and we just came out and had some great at-bats. Every inning. Stayed hungry."

Cards starter Jake Westbrook once again showed some positive signs but didn't quite find the form that he showed last summer after a trade from Cleveland.

Pitching with a lead from the first time he stepped on the mound, Westbrook threw plenty of strikes but also permitted plenty of solid contact. He was reached for five runs, two earned, in 5 1/3 innings. The right-hander struck out more than he walked for the first time this year, and he recorded 10 ground-ball outs against four in the air.

"Two walks instead of four or five," he noted. "I felt great. I felt really good tonight. I don't know if the warmer weather had anything to do with it, but I felt better. I felt like I made pitches. I still can't get through six, but it's a different circumstance tonight."

Miguel Batista continued to turn in solid relief work as the first man in behind Westbrook, and Eduardo Sanchez pitched two shutout innings with five strikeouts in his big league debut.

It looked briefly as though the game might turn contentious. Matt Holliday and Ryan Theriot were both were hit by pitches that were not only inside but high during the second inning, and another ball buzzed Pujols. However, despite some irritation on the Cards' part, no further tension transpired.

When Berkman followed the hit batsmen with a grand slam, the Cards' celebration had a bit of an edge, but by the end of the night there were no hard feelings.

"Clearly he wasn't trying to hit anybody," Berkman said. "He was just struggling with his command. That was the biggest deal for him today, was just the lack of command. But it's always good when you can capitalize on a situation there early and break the game open."

St. Louis improved to 5-7 on the year, pulling within three games of division-leading Cincinnati in the National League Central. The Cardinals have split the first six games of a 10-game, three-city western road swing. Comments